The Guthrie kid is alright
Arlo plays his father’s songs on commemorative tour
Arlo Guthrie’s name was burned into the rock ’n’ roll history books with the 1967 release of his classic “Alice’s Restaurant,” a more than 18-minute-long monologue/folk song and ode to peace and 1960s counterculture. Today, the folk-music icon still travels the country with his wit, whimsy and a suitcase full of observational musical tales in tow, and he’s bringing it all to Chico State’s Laxson Auditorium on April 12 as part of the Woody 100 Tour: Here Comes the Kid. The performance will honor Guthrie’s legendary father, Woody Guthrie, the grassroots balladeer who roamed the back roads of America with the message “This Machine Kills Fascists” on the front of his guitar, and provided a hopeful voice to the downtrodden during the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression and beyond.
“We’re coming to the end of a two-year tour, which began on [what would have been] my dad’s 100th birthday in July 2012,” Guthrie said from his Florida home. “I’ve always included some of his songs in my set list, but this tour has been much more geared to his work and less so to my own.” While Guthrie does spend time in Florida, he still has his storied 400-acre farm in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, just a few miles from the site of the old restaurant/church that inspired “Alice’s Restaurant.”
The current touring unit is a four-piece that includes Guthrie’s son Abe on keyboards, longtime singer-songwriter Bobby Sweet on guitar, and drummer Terry A La Berry.
A few of Woody’s pieces of music that may be celebrated at Laxson include “Roll On Columbia, Roll On” and “Grand Coulee Dam,” as well as the obligatory “This Land Is Your Land.”
Guthrie, a gifted storyteller, will pepper the performance with yarns and anecdotes from his colorful past, in addition to a few selections from his own catalog, including perhaps his signature rendition of “City of New Orleans”.
His musical pedigree goes far deeper than being the son of Woody. Performing as a teen, he was part of the Greenwich Village folk scene back in the early 1960s that included future luminaries Bob Dylan; Simon & Garfunkel; and Peter, Paul & Mary. Over the years, the guitar, harmonica and piano player has performed in dozens of countries, often in support of social-justice efforts. He also wrote and created the art for the children’s picture book Mooses Come Walking, a realm in which he still dabbles.
“That book, along with two never-before-published illustrated books for kids is at the printers and will be available sometime later this year,” Guthrie said.
When asked what other family members are out touring these days in addition to Abe, Guthrie offered playfully, “Hopefully not more than I know about, but who knows?” He then added, “All my kids sing and perform and there’s always someone out on tour. The thing I like best is when we all get together and play in the same place at around the same time.”
That happened for Guthrie, now the family patriarch, when the Guthrie Family Rides Again tour, featuring his four kids and seven grandchildren, toured the country in 2009 and 2010.
Guthrie was, of course, a friend and longtime performing partner of another folk legend, Pete Seeger. After Seeger’s death in January at age 94, Guthrie told Time Magazine, regarding Seeger’s legacy, “For me personally it is the incredible feelings that can change a moment in time when people sing. … I remember walking down the street with Pete and half a million other people at the rallies in the ’60s and the empowerment that people felt singing together, walking together, standing side-by-side. It changed my life, and it changed everyone’s life who was there.”
For anyone who assumes this tour will be the last for the 66-year-old Guthrie, think again. He’s already looking forward to 2015, when performances celebrating the 50th anniversary of “Alice’s Restaurant” will begin.